National Cork and Cork Oak Day, celebrated on June 1, appears on the Portuguese calendar to mark interest in a species with great historical symbolism and high environmental, social and economic value.
Valued since antiquity for the properties of its bark, the cork oak has described the properties and uses of cork for thousands of years. Several scholars identify traces of its use from China to Egypt, initially as a seal for containers, insulation for houses, and a floating fishing buoy. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus already described in his botanical texts, about 2,200 years ago, how Quercus suber was distinguished from other species: “round barrenness causes the death of every tree (…). But perhaps cork oak is an exception. Because it gets more vigor if you remove the outer cork…”
This long use earned it the protected species status it now holds from an early age. For example, the Visigoth king Alaric II (485-507) promulgated a set of Roman laws in force in the Iberian Peninsula, which included measures to protect cork oaks. In Portugal, its protection probably began in the 13th century with the release of King D. Sancho I in 1209 year of the customs and laws of Castelo Rodrigo and Castelo Melhor, which set fines for anyone who destroys cork oaks, threatening the production of cork oak, used in animal feed.
At the end of the 13th century, during the reign of King Dinis, letters appeared protecting cork and holm oak, prohibiting and punishing “burning and massive cutting of fruit, illegal harvesting of green branches and, above all, excessive felling”
These and other characteristics have been described over the centuries, multiplying the uses of the native cork tree, the value of which extends to the use of acorns and the ecological importance of Montado (as cork plantations are called in Portugal), a system developed by man and perfected over the centuries in Portugal to “improve use and profitability of scarce resources in a region characterized by a Mediterranean climate and poor soils’.
In the 21st century (2011), the Assembly of the Republic enhanced the symbolic status of the cork oak by declaring it “the national tree of Portugal”. This status results, among others, from its important function in soil protection, regulation of the hydrological cycle, carbon storage and, among others, water quality, i.e. ensuring basic ecosystem services .
In addition to the thousands of jobs it provides, cork has a significant weight in Portuguese exports: over a billion euros in 2020 (and also in 2019), according to the international trade statistics of the INE – Instituto Nacional de Statistic. APCOR highlights this contribution – Associação Portuguesa da Cortiça, which estimates it at around 2% of Portuguese goods exports and 1.2% of total exports, with a positive trade balance of €815.6 million. Portugal is also the world’s largest exporter of processed products, with 63%, equivalent to €986.3 million.
3 suggestions for celebrating National Cork and Cork Oak Day
In the National Korka and Oak Korkowy there are many opportunities to get to know this species better and learn more about its features and advantages. Here are three suggestions:
Discover the largest cork oak in the world
In various parts of the country, there are several cork oaks that are natural monuments, trees that stand out from other species in terms of size, construction, age, rarity, historical or landscape value. One of the most notable is the “matching tree” or “whistling cork oak”. In 2018, this unique cork oak in the village of Águas de Moura (Palmela) was awarded the European Tree of the Year and entered the Guinness Book of Records as “the largest in the world”. It is 16.2 meters high and covered with leaves with a canopy with a diameter of nearly 30 meters.
In addition to the extensive shade and shelter it provides to the birds, its contribution to cork production stands out: it is considered the most productive cork oak in the world, providing enough cork to produce 100,000 plugs.
Visit the Oak and Cork Observatory
Celebrate the Day of this species, which can live up to 250-300 years, by visiting the Coruche Oak and Cork Observatory. Designed by architect Manuel Couceiro, the building refers to the metaphor of the cork oak as a living element. In addition to laboratories and workshops for the study of cork oak and cork, the building also includes a space dedicated to collecting information related to the cork industry and an auditorium.
Discover the Planet of Cork
In Gaia, a new natural museum dedicated to cork was opened in 2020. As an interactive experience, Planeta Korka invites you to discover the various uses of this product, from the ancient exploitation of cork oak to the most diverse and avant-garde applications, such as traditional wine corks or applications in the aerospace industry.